Taobao, the Chinese shopping site that combines eBay, Amazon, and Alibaba, recently got a lot easier for foreigners to use. As Sjaak documented in his Taobao buying adventures a few years ago, most foreigners use an agency that takes payment via Paypal, purchases your babies, and forwards them to you via DHL or airmail. Even foreigners fortunate enough to be in China withdraw money at an ATM, deposit in a Chinese bank account (or buy scratch off value cards), transfer money to Alipay, and then pay for babies – plus a week to set it all up. In short, even with Chrome’s built in translation it’s very difficult for foreigners to shop Taobao.
Sometime late this year, likely around the Alibaba IPO, Taobao started accepting foreign Credit cards as a payment source. Jelmer, second hacker camp participant and now resident hacker, was the first to point this out. I signed up and ordered a ton of stuff that’s raining in over the holidays.
The basic process:
1. Register for a Taobao Account. If you are inside China it is best to use a VPN that shows you outside China. We used a Tokyo exit point.
2. Verify your cell phone number. If you are inside China on a VPN it is still OK to use your Chinese number.
3. Buy some babies and checkout. You will be asked to set a new Alipay password.
4. Near the top of the Alipay payment source page select the last option of the drop down: international payment sources.
5. Enter a credit card and make payment. If you have a Verified by Visa password or some other garbage you will have to do it your first few purchases.
That’s “it”, however as almost no sellers ship outside China you still need to be there, have a friend there, or beg Suzie Shipper to freight forward for you. I’m lucky, and will be here a while on business so let’s get to the shopping.
Most of my holiday Taobao purchases are food related. You might even infer some homesickness by the large number of hometown food imports. First up, this lovely deli meat slicer, $40. You’ll find out why as supplies for the DP deli roll in over the coming days.
And here’s some extra crunchy super chunk Skippy peanut butter, about $5 with next day shipping. It’s not that there’s no peanut butter in China, even small stores have American brands, but the super chunk is a rare beast.
No, we didn’t order 6 liters of shelf stable whipping cream, but we got it. This one will have to go back to Beijing, a bit of a pain.
A six pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. At $5 per bottle plus $3 shipping we’re much better off going to City Super in Shatin, Hong Kong and grabbing them for $2. This is our first Taobao fail.
Corn tortillas, $3. Not frozen as advertised (err… translated…), though they are cold in Styrofoam (yuck) with an icepack.
Finally, two jars of Turkish sweet paprika paste, $6 each + $1.60 overnight shipping. Needlessly wrapped in a ton of Styrofoam. This is kind of a weird one, I like to use a tablespoon in pressure cooker risotto and a quarter cup in tomato mother sauce. Hungarian paprika would be better, but I couldn’t find it.
First day haul of Taobaomas was pretty good. This stuff shipped from as far north as Beijing, and arrived in under 24 hours at an average shipping cost of $2 per package. Pretty amazing.
Packaging was overkill and I’m apprehensive about how much Styrofoam will be used to package all the perishables that will arrive in the coming days.
Keep an eye out every day this week for an update on what rolls in. If you have a Taobao challenge post it in the comments and we’ll try to find it!